The Flash: The Complete First Season
Review by KC Carlson
I have a great affection for the Barry Allen/Flash character from DC Comics. The Flash was the first comic book series I “collected” (as opposed to just “read”), and I’ve read all of his classic comics adventures (at least up to the “New 52” era of the comics series). So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there was going to be a new TV series about the Fastest Man Alive, and that it was going to be a part of an ever-expanding “universe” of DC Comics TV shows based on their characters. Further, being a huge TV fan as well, I was doubly excited to learn that writer/producer Greg Berlanti was going to be involved in developing it. I’ve been watching his shows since Dawson’s Creek, and his list of credits includes some excellent (if cultish) shows like Everwood, Jack & Bobby, Brothers & Sisters, Eli Stone, the also super-heroic No Ordinary Family, and others, including DC’s Arrow, the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, and (as producer only) Supergirl.
The other major offscreen members of The Flash’s creative team are DC Comics CCO and writer Geoff Johns (Justice League, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Superman, JSA, Infinite Crisis, 52, Blackest Night, and many other comics series). Andrew Kreisberg, a TV writer/producer of the current Arrow, completes the creative trifecta. Kreisberg has also written for DC Comics for such series as Green Arrow and Black Canary, Batman Confidential, and Vibe.
The TV show is composed a bit differently than the comics -— although it’s interesting to note that they grab various characters and plot scenarios from multiple eras/incarnations of the comic book series. (If you’re not that familiar with comics, you’ll note that that the characters and their settings tend to “reset” themselves with some regularity. Comic book status quo used to only change maybe every 20 years or so, but in the modern era change happens more frequently, like every 3 to 5 years or so, or as often as a new creative team is hired to replace the one that just left.) The Flash (this TV show) tends to pick and choose from several different Flash eras, although leaning heavily on the original Geoff Johns-scripted era, which was probably the most recent “reboot” that both made sense and had some staying power.
In this new show, Grant Gustin (Glee) plays Barry Allen/The Flash. As in most incarnations of the character, Barry is a forensic scientist and crime scene investigator for the Central City Police Department. As a child, he witnessed the supernatural murder of his mother, Nora (Michelle Harrison) and later, the the arrest and conviction of his father Henry (John Wesley Shipp). Police Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) works the case and becomes young Barry’s foster father after the murder and arrest. Barry grows up living with West and his daughter Iris (Candice Patton). Iris doesn’t know that over the years Barry has developed (unrequited) feelings for her, which frustrates adult Barry when adult Iris begins dating Eddie Thawane (Rick Cosnett), a new Central City police detective partnered with her father Joe.
Adult Barry begins working as an Assistant Crime Scene Investigator for the CCPD, and while there, is stuck by lightning after an explosion at the Central City S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator. After being in a coma for nine months, he recovers and discovers that he has superhuman speed. His recovery is assisted by S.T.A.R. Labs’ Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). They learn more about Barry’s speed powers as they help train him to use them in heroic ways.
As readers of the Flash’s comic book series over the years know, the series is populated with the the most unique super-villains in comics, and of course, many of them appear in this series. Collectively they are called the Rogues, and several of them gain their powers/ abilities as a consequence of the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator accident. Leonard Snart becomes Captain Cold because of the accident and eventually becomes the leader of the Rogues.
Another thing to mention is the close relationship of this show with the TV series Arrow, which debuted a year before The Flash and also has both Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg as writer/producers. Grant Gustin first appeared as Barry Allen in two episodes of the second season of Arrow, and Barry’s origin lightning-strike and coma storyline was also set up there. Besides having his own series this year, Gustin appeared in three episodes of Arrow Season Three, in a full-blown crossover as well as two cameos. Unfortunately, none of the previous appearances of Allen or Flash on Arrow are included on this set.
One difference between The Flash and Arrow, connected as they are, is that The Flash is a lot more fun. Aside from the apparently required dead mother setup, many of the storylines are more light-hearted than other DC TV shows, and Barry, thankfully, isn’t overcome by grimness or angst. He doesn’t sit around worrying about whether he should kill or not; he just doesn’t kill, instead finding creative ways, helped by his scientific advisors at the Labs, to stop the latest superpowered threat. He’s cheerful, and that’s inspiring. Also, Cisco is hilarious with the way he tags everything they fight with a comic-book name.
As if this weren’t enough DC lore being incorporated into the fabric of this series, several other potential DC heroes are also introduced, which I will remain mum on, wanting to keep some of the fun of the secret reveals for those of you who haven’t watched the series yet. Suffice it to say, The Flash is the TV show show most connected to the DC Universe. It has introduced dozens of characters into the DC TV Universe (which apparently runs alongside and co-exists with the intended and recently announced “DC Extended Universe” of major motion pictures), with even more characters to come in Season Two.
That sense of history extends to the TV universe. You might have recognized the name John Wesley Shipp as the guy who starred in the previous (1990) Flash TV series; having him play the dad is a great casting choice. Plus, there’s an episode that directly compares then and now, as Mark Hamill (the Trickster in that previous show) reprises the role when he returns to pass the mantle to a new generation of villain. The two shows are very different in tone, technology, and just about everything else, as TV and fan expectations have come a long way in 25 years, but that acknowledgement of what’s come before is a much better choice than pretending the new version of a hero is the only one who ever mattered.
This new The Flash: The Complete First Season Blu-ray set includes all 23 episodes with copious special features. There are deleted scenes for 16 (out of 23!) episodes and the Pilot (Episode One) also features a commentary by Berlanti, Kreisberg, and Johns.
Among things discussed were Barry Allen’s previous appearances on Arrow, Barry’s being in a coma with discussion about on which show he was originally supposed to “come out” of said coma, revelation of a series regular who was supposed to have died in the pilot, details about another character who was supposed to debut there (but saved for later), numerous Easter Eggs about characters and comic book tie-ins, how the term “metahuman” was first used in live action here, a lot of discussion about “dramatizing the fun of being a super-hero”, and a really goofy-looking Flash test suit that’s better seen than described. Overall emphasis was on “fully embracing the comic books”. Fun commentary worth hearing (says a guy who’s heard plenty that weren’t). Other Special Features include:
- “The Fastest Man Alive” (30:39): Overview of the series emphasizing the origins from the 1950s comics, updated in new ways for today’s viewers. Not just about super-humans, but “super-humanity”. And about how, not just Barry, but “Team Flash” discovers their inner heroes.
- “Creating The Blur — The VFX of The Flash” (26:25): Exactly what it says, although not just for SFX fans. Using new techniques seemingly invented five seconds before they were needed. Or was time-travel involved? (DUN DUN DUN!)
- “Screen Test: The Chemistry of Grant and Emily” (4:20) Or in other words, between Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak. You just can’t look away, can you? Why are these people on different shows?
- “Behind the Story: The Trickster Returns” (8:39): Mark Hamill and John Wesley Shipp tie together two different Flash TV series with a remarkable reprise.
- “DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014: Presenting Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, and Arrow” (29:31): If you also have the Gotham Season One set, you already have this. The stage is loaded with way too many cast members, so not every person there gets to speak, and the ones that do, generally only get one question each.
- Gag Reel (8:24): As you can imagine with this kind of show, lots of hard to pronounce quasi-scientific baloney is shot all to hell. But very funny to watch. Plus, bad dancing, bad words (bleeped), mugging, a wheelchair with a mind of its own, and you’ll believe that props can malfunction!
The Flash Season One is now available on virtually all formats. (We watched the Blu-ray, which was thoughtfully provided by the studio.) Season two just debuted on the CW. Come back in a year and we’ll talk about that one… which will probably be released on formats/platforms that haven’t even been invented yet.